World Cup 2014 review – France

Quarter-finals: FranceColombiaBelgiumCosta Rica

Round of 16: ChileUruguayMexicoGreeceNigeriaAlgeriaSwitzerlandUSA
A: CroatiaCameroon B: SpainAustralia C: Ivory CoastJapan D: ItalyEngland
E: EcuadorHonduras F: BosniaIran G: PortugalGhana H: RussiaSouth Korea

FRANCE

World Cup progress: Quarter-finals

Team rating: 8

Top scorer: Benzema (3)

France put the events of the last three major tournaments behind them as an exciting new-look side reached the quarter-finals, only to lose to Germany, reflects Stephen Donovan.

Allez Les Bleus

For France, the last three major tournaments have been dominated by poor performances on the pitch, and an ongoing row between the players and the French Football Federation. However, the 2014 World Cup has shown that they are finally beginning to move on from all that turmoil, with an impressive run to the quarter-finals suggesting that there may be promising times ahead for this massive footballing nation.

In Didier Deschamps, they went into the tournament with a manager with World Cup winning experience, superb motivational skills, and the bravery the leave out some of the country’s biggest star names for the good of the team. There were many eyebrows raised when Manchester City pair Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri were left out, but Deschamps will feel that the football his side played and the unity they showed vindicated his decision.

Also without arguably their biggest name in Franck Ribery due to injury, France began their campaign with modest expectations, although they were confident of getting out of what was perhaps one of the weakest groups at the finals. The midfield partnership of Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba looked a strong one right from the start, as their industry and creativity helped Karim Benzema inspire them to a 3-0 win over Honduras in their opening match.

The performance that opened many people’s eyes was the 5-2 thrashing of Switzerland, a game which saw five different players hit the net, with France putting a normally solid Swiss defence to the sword. Again, Benzema was outstanding, but this World Cup was very much a team effort, with Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena also putting in quality performances. Valbuena in particular would continue to impress for the rest of the tournament.

The final group match was a chance for Deschamps to hand some of his fringe players an opportunity, and only an inspired goalkeeping display prevented France from making it three wins from three. Despite the goalless draw with Ecuador, they entered the knockout stages with a great deal of confidence. There was even some talk that they could have an outside chance of winning the competition.

African champions Nigeria were their next opponents, and collectively they did seem quite nervy for much of the encounter, as Stephen Keshi’s men looked the more likely to score in the first hour, but failed to create many clear-cut chances. Deschamps then helped turn the game in his side’s favour, bringing on Antoine Griezmann for Giroud. The Real Sociedad striker made a massive impact, and France ended up winning the game fairly comfortably in the end.

Griezmann kept his place for the quarter-final meeting with Germany at the Maracana, and for long periods it was a closely fought game. France will regret the manner of the goal which sent them out in the end, with Mats Hummels given plenty of space to head home Toni Kroos’ free-kick, but they can take comfort from the fact they did not go down without a fight.

Benzema and Co just couldn’t find a way past an organised German defence, and even more so a goalkeeper with the ability and presence of Manuel Neuer. Meanwhile, Germany could easily have added more goals to their tally on the counter-attack.

So, a meeting against the three-time winners proved a step too far, but a French side described as perhaps the worst ever just months before the tournament have emerged with credit. The football they played can only serve as a foundation on which to build on going into future major tournaments, and with a bit more experience, they should be among the leading contenders to lift the Euro 2016 title as hosts.

The Coach – Didier Deschamps

The winning captain of 1998 deserves a remarkable amount of credit for the way he inspired a group of players involved in rebellion at previous major tournaments to come together and perform above pre-tournament expectations at this World Cup, and play some entertaining football in the process.

Player of the Tournament – Karim Benzema

It was a relatively young squad, but it was the experience of striker Karim Benzema that shone through for France. He was the one man who looked like making things happen for his side whenever he was on the ball, and backed up his performances with three goals and three assists.

Memorable moment

The 5-2 win over Switzerland was a game where France showed their attacking potential, with five different players hitting the net in a virtuoso display.

Results

15-Jun-14 France 3-0 Honduras Group E
20-Jun-14 Switzerland 2-5 France Group E
25-Jun-14 Ecuador 0-0 France Group E
Group E P W D L F A Pts
France 3 2 1 0 8 2 7
Switzerland 3 2 0 1 7 6 6
Ecuador 3 1 1 1 3 3 4
Honduras 3 0 0 3 1 8 0
30-Jun-14 France 2-0 Nigeria Round of 16
4-Jul-14 France 0-1 Germany Quarter-final

Squad

No Pos Player Apps Goals Assists
1 GK Hugo Lloris 4
2 D Mathieu Debuchy 4
3 D Patrice Evra 4
4 D Raphael Varane 5
5 D Mamadou Sakho 4
6 M Yohan Cabaye 4
7 F Remy Cabella
8 F Mathieu Valbuena 4 1 2
9 F Oliver Giroud 5 1 1
10 F Karim Benzema 5 3 3
11 F Antoine Griezmann 5 1
12 M Rio Mavuba 1
13 D Eliaquim Mangala
14 M Blaise Matuidi 5 1
15 D Bacary Sagna 1
16 GK Stephane Ruffier
17 D Lucas Digne 1
18 M Mousa Sissoko 4 1
19 M Paul Pogba 5 1 1
20 F Loic Remy 2
21 D Laurent Koscielny 4
22 M Morgan Schneiderlin 1
23 GK Mickael Landreau

For a complete review of the 2014 World Cup, check out the next issue of Soccer Italia, written by the team at Football Italia and available on worldwide subscription.